Father John Appiah is leading efforts to bring health care, education to his native Ghana
By Bill Brewer
Evangelization in the Diocese of Knoxville extends far beyond the boundaries of East Tennessee.
The care, concern, generosity, and overall ministry of diocesan clergy, religious, and laity is seen in East Tennessee’s urban communities and rural areas through the efforts of parishes, Catholic Charities of East Tennessee, Ladies of Charity, St. Mary’s Legacy Clinic, and the many Catholic lay organizations.
But that Christian attitude also is witnessed in remote places like Haiti and Africa, where one Diocese of Knoxville priest is making it his mission to raise the level of health care and education in his hometown.
Father John Appiah, who was born in Africa and has spent much of his youth in the diocese, is leading a ministry that is developing permanent medical and educational facilities in his native village of Nkonya-Wurupong in the Volta region of Ghana.
Now Father Appiah is leading a project to build the St. John Vianney Middle School in Nkonya-Wurupong, which means raising nearly $95,000 for the project. He already has led a project that raised $26,000 to build a kindergarten in the village.
Father Appiah worked closely with Rotary International and Rotary clubs in East Tennessee with fundraising, donation of supplies and medications, and manpower for his projects that include medical missions to Ghana. Rotary International and Rotary chapters around the diocese have given more than $100,000 for the medical, education, and technology mission trips.
Other organizations involved in the Ghana project have been the Rotary Club of Accra, Ghana, AmeriCares, Bausch and Lomb, Irwin Medical Missionaries, Methodist Medical Center of Oak Ridge, Remote Area Medical, Team Technologies, Vine International, St. Mary Church in Oak Ridge, and All Saints Church in Knoxville, which, together, have donated more than $500,000 in medical supplies, equipment, and medication.
“This has been a long-term project. This mission is saving lives. Miracles happen,” said Dr. Elaine Bunick, an Oak Ridge physician and parishioner at St. Mary Church there. Dr. Bunick has coordinated the medical missions to Ghana with Father Appiah. The first one was in 2008, followed by similar missions in 2010, 2012, 2015, 2016, and 2017. Another mission took place July 20-Aug. 4.
“It all started in the Catholic Church with (Ghana) Bishop Mante, Bishop (Joseph E.) Kurtz, and Bishop (Richard F.) Stika, who has allowed us to do this work,” she added.
And while the mission trips tend to be specifically designed for health care and education, other forms of assistance are often required, such as digging bore holes for water, digging other large holes for septic tanks, construction of bathrooms with flushing toilets and running showers, installation of tile floors, and installation of electrical wiring for lights, fans, and electrical appliances.
The donated equipment includes a water purification system from a company that also makes them available for Haiti outreach ministries.
Father Appiah noted that the 2016 mission team provided medical care to 1,671 adults and children, screening, and treating more than 300 for eye problems. The 2017 mission team provided medical care to 1,159 adults and children and treated 180 for eye problems. Volunteer hours of service in 2016 and 2017 in Ghana totaled 10,634 with a value of more than $244,000.
In advance of the missions, thousands of pounds of supplies and equipment are provided from donations, packed in shipping crates, and shipped to Ghana. Once in Ghana, they are used for medical treatment and disease prevention; vocational training; computer training; education on medication dosing, preparation, and side effects; and other basic needs.
Dr. Bunick noted that the most recent mission trip marks the 10th anniversary of the first medical mission to Ghana. She remarked that Bishop Gabriel A. Mante in Ghana told Father Appiah the Diocese of Knoxville priest should lead a medical mission to the village of Nkonya-Wurupong on the 20th anniversary of his priesthood in 2018.
She explained that Father Appiah’s family is one of nine families that lead the 3,000-resident village. Dr. Bunick expected up to 12,000 people to be treated at the most recent medical mission, which featured an eye doctor. She noted that with the installation of medical tools, indoor plumbing, windows, electrical wiring, a fresh-water system, and other utilities, the rural medical outpost has become a bona fide health-care center from a rural post built in the 1950s as a first-aid station.
“This place is primitive; 27 percent of children under age 5 die, and the leading cause is malaria. But we have been able to cut the malaria rate by 50 percent in the village,” Dr. Bunick said, noting that 40 percent of the Ghana population is under age 30 and that standard tools of health care are malaria treatment packs and parasite treatment packs. “We have made a difference in the life expectancy.”
In pointing out that few, if any, doctors had ever visited the village before the 2008 medical mission, Father Appiah and Dr. Bunick remarked that the global grant project for the Nkonya-Wurupong medical clinic and schools is “working to restore humanity” and that all the work serves as a perfect illustration of “service above self,” which are Rotary mottos.
Father Appiah next plans to turn his attention to developing a trade school in the village to teach skills to improve the village’s way of life, such as car repair, woodworking and carpentry, and even baking for making fresh bread.
“If we can keep the education coming, vocational training, and maintain their health through the medical-care center then this will be a viable village. A sustainable village is what we’re looking for,” Dr. Bunick said.